Walk On, Basement
You don’t want to take a step down in quality when taking those steps down to the basement. Hence, it’s crucial to select the right flooring material for your lower level, where conditions can be a bit more unpredictable and underlying problems can present themselves unpredictably.
Why? Most importantly, because temperature and moisture issues down below can leave you footing major repair bills – and suffering major regrets.
“The basement area experiences the most temperature fluctuation changes of any room in your home,” says Dayna Hairston, Cary, N.C.-based Interior Designer for Dayziner LLC. “These temperature variances can cause certain flooring and wall materials to crack, buckle, expand or contract, which can affect the look, longevity and function of the floor.”
Additionally, some basements suffer from leaking or flooding problems that can wreak havoc on a chosen flooring material.
“Most basements have a concrete slab as a base that’s below grade, making it prone to invite moisture, dampness and water seepage,” says Arthur Mintie, senior technical services director at Laticrete in Bethany, Conn.
Basement flooring needs to be considered carefully for more reasons than just climate and H2O complications, however.
“Many basements are mixed-use type spaces for different activities, like relaxing, exercising, and socializing. It can be hard to select the proper material that works best across all functions while respecting local environmental conditions and budget constraints,” Hairston says. “Will you be walking around barefoot or have small or crawling children who need comfort underfoot? Do you need an easily cleanable surface, or will you be installing athletic equipment that requires a durable floor? All these questions need to be answered first.”
Fortunately, a wide array of flooring solutions have been made to meet these challenges, including options that previously weren’t recommended for below-grade installations.
“The two basement-friendly choices with the best moisture resistance are traditional luxury vinyl tile and rigid core, which are waterproof and incredibly durable and scratch-resistant. Engineered tile and vinyl sheet flooring also repel water well and are suitable for basement installation,” says Ebeth Pitman, director of brand marketing for Lancaster, Pa.-based Armstrong Flooring. “There are so many great new products on the market today – for instance vinyl sheet flooring, which doesn’t absorb liquids and has fewer seams than vinyl tile, resulting in less places where water or dirt can accumulate.”
Teris Pantazes, a Baltimore-based contractor and co-founder of EFynch.com, installed a quality epoxy floor in his basement, a material he recommends.
“The lack of wall-to-wall carpeting is made up for by using large area rugs,” says Pantazes, who alternatively suggests installing quality carpeting, which can be dried out, cleaned and easily removed/reinstalled after an adverse moisture event.
If you prefer carpeting and are on a budget, Hairston suggests a broadloom product or carpet tiles (damaged sections can be easily replaced).
Engineered hardwood is also rising in popularity as flooring product of choice today in basements and on slab foundations.
“It’s 100 percent hardwood and more dimensionally stable than solid wood floors because of the cross-banding of each layer of hardwood,” says Emily Morrow Finkell, CEO/founder of Emily Morrow Home Hardwood in Dalton, Ga.
Traditional hardwood floors, however, are a no-no downstairs.
“It’s best to avoid solid hardwoods and laminate that lack a moisture-resistant plywood core. Both are prone to absorbing moisture, even with waterproofing in place, and can warp and buckle over time,” Mintie cautions.
He adds that it’s best to install a moisture barrier beneath any basement flooring material, either a vapor barrier, waterproofing subfloor material, or cement-based underlayment.
“It’s critical for the contractor or installer you choose to create a waterproof envelop to properly contain moisture and prevent leaking, and to perform a flood test to validate whether the installation is truly waterproof,” Mintie says.
Once your selected flooring material is installed, protect your investment with careful maintenance.
“Test your sump pump regularly, make sure your rain gutters are clean, and drain water at least four inches away from your foundation. And keep an eye on humidity levels, too,” Pantazes says.
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